Review of Girls und Panzer der Film

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Good things come to those who wait. That saying rings especially true for the Girls und Panzer franchise. Given that I reviewed the anime way back in May 2014, there has been over a three-year gap between the UK release dates of the series and movie. Either the folks at MVM Entertainment were in no rush to capitalize on the show’s popularity or the Japanese licensors were once again playing hardball with selling off rights to the international markets. One can only imagine how much profit was lost to piracy due to the slow ass localisation. Now that the Blu-Ray is finally out I can reveal if the movie “tanked” or if it is a hit. Read on to find out.

OVERVIEW

Girls und Panzer der Film kicks off with a 2v2 match, which pits Oarai High and Chihatan Academy against the alliance of Pravda and St. Gloriana. It’s an action packed opener featuring a team who brazenly charge into battle and a squad of British infantry tanks, whose pilots stereotypically love to drink a good cuppa… even in the midst of combat! After the encounter the students of Oarai return home only to discover that their school has been shut down. It appears that the Ministry of Education have reneged on their promise to keep the institution open, on condition that the school triumph in the last Tankery tournament (which they did as chronicled in the series.) Going back on your word is heinous, but in the ministry’s defence you can’t blame them for wishing to cut down on costs. Maintaining a school based atop an aircraft carrier can’t be cheap.

All hope is not lost though. Oarai High’s student council president convinces the ministry’s bureaucrats to sign a legally binding contract that will force them to reverse the closure, should the school’s Tankery club manage to beat a university team in an exhibition match. Victory won’t be easy however, as Oarai’s opponents are led by a child prodigy who is fighting to secure funding for the refurbishment of her favourite teddy bear museum. To make matters worse the university team’s armoured core division outnumbers Oarai – thirty to eight. Not good, when you consider that the rules stipulate that you must eliminate all of your opponents in order to secure a win. Thankfully aid arrives from an unlikely source. All the rivals that Oarai bested in the series join our heroines’ cause and thanks to their inclusion in the Oarai ranks the stage is set for a fair 30v30 brawl.

VERDICT

My rating for Girls und Panzer der Film is a four out of five. I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie, given how little story it has. Most of the two hour running time is made up of two lengthy battles, with only a smidgen of plot sandwiched in between. Usually when a motion picture goes overboard with action I begin to suffer from fight fatigue, but in the case of Girls und Panzer the time flew by. I think Girls und Panzer was consistently entertaining because the onscreen warfare wasn’t just an excuse for mindless explosions. Tactics play a key part in deciding how the skirmishes play out and everyone, from the huge cast, is given a moment to shine. Another thing that kept things fresh were the varied environments where the action was set. During the decisive match tanks traded fire on a rural hillside, a hedge maze and even atop a rollercoaster!

I am usually a vocal critic of CG in anime, but in the case of Girls und Panzer I must concede that the 3D visual effects enhanced the viewing experience. Although I am no expert on the subject, others sources have informed me that the animators did a good job of authentically recreating the look of the WII era tanks that feature in the movie. In terms of character moments, there isn’t much to write home about. What we get however does the job. The manner in which the student body reacted to their school’s closure succeeded in getting me to root for the heroines. I also appreciated the scene were protagonist Miho returns home. After being forced to compete against each other, in the series, I expected that there would be some friction between the Nishizumi siblings. It was sweet to see that I was mistaken and that their family bond remains strong.

Cute girls and armoured vehicles is a strange combination, but somehow Girls und Panzer makes it work. After enjoying both the series and movie I can’t wait to check out the upcoming six-part Girls und Panzer: The Final Chapter. Hopefully the UK won’t be made to wait too long for that release. What do you guys think of Girls und Panzer? Let me know in the comments section below. Until next time – “tank” you very much for reading. Panzer vor!

Review of Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

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Cowboy Bebop used to be my favourite anime and holds the honour of being the second ever series that I purchased on DVD (the first, in case you are wondering, is the less lauded Bubblegum Crisis 2040.) Manga Entertainment have recently re-released the Bebop movie Knocking On Heaven’s Door in the UK, which has given me the excuse to fire up my DVD player and spend some quality time with everyone’s favourite band of bounty hunters. Spike Spiegel, Faye Valentine, Jet Black, Edward Wong and Ein star in a Halloween themed adventure that pits them against a terrorist. Is the movie a trick or treat? Read on to find out.

OVERVIEW

When bomber Vincent Volaju detonates a truck loaded with a deadly chemical, in the Martian capital city, authorities respond by placing a 300 million Woolong bounty on his head. The reward catches the attention of Spike and chums, who are eager to supplement their unbalanced diets. Just think of all the meat you could buy with that money. Beats chowing down on instant noodles everyday – man shouldn’t have to live on carbohydrates alone, complex or otherwise. Motivated by appetite, the hunt for Vincent begins. Spike investigates the pharmaceutical company that the destroyed truck was registered to, Faye pursues one of Volaju’s associates, Jet hits his law enforcement contacts for leads and Ed in the meantime puts her hacking talents to good use.

Despite being set in the year 2071, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie doesn’t feel like a science fiction film. The Mars metropolis, where Vincent is based, has the architecture of a modern US city. Only the existence of spacecraft, which hardly factor into the plot, remind us that Bebop doesn’t take place in the present day. For the most part, the action relies on contemporary firearms and Spike’s martial art skills. Viewers who are not acquainted with the series can still enjoy the movie, as it is a standalone story. Long time fans of the franchise will however benefit from the full experience, as they will spot references and cameos that the uninitiated won’t.

VERDICT

My rating for Cowboy Bebop: The Movie is a four out of five. I enjoyed the movie a little more, this time round, than the first time I saw it. What starts out as a routine manhunt soon morphs into a tale were the hunters become the hunted. Spike’s pursuit of Vincent reveals that Volaju is armed with illegal weapons that were pilfered from a drug company. Needless to say, said corporation is keen to cover-up their involvement in the case and will silence anyone who gets in their way. By the end of this two-hour feature the fate of Mars hangs in the balance, due to the threat of a nanomachine outbreak. Why does it always have to be nanomachines? I have had my fill of those microscopic bots, ever since I completed the Metal Gear Solid saga.

Although I liked Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, I must admit that the series is better. For me, the show’s funnier episodes were its highlight. This movie however is low on comedy, aside from some humorous banter. On the plus side Vincent is a compelling villain, who reminds me a little of Spike. They both have fought in the Titan War for example and they both make remarks about how life feels like a dream. Visually the movie’s animation belies its age and the audio is solid. Like most Shinichirō Watanabe productions, the soundtrack is great. I also think that the dub is good. Steven Blum, who has previously voiced Wolverine, is responsible for Spike’s vocals. Perhaps that explains why the protagonist has superhuman recovery powers? One moment Spike is on the cusp of death and a few scenes later he enters the final battle showing no ill effects!

Fans of Cowboy Bebop, who missed this movie the first time around, should take advantage of Manga’s re-release. They won’t be disappointed. What do you guys think of Cowboy Bebop, be it the series or movie? Let me know in the comments section below. Until next time, see you space cowboy.

Review of God Eater (Volume Two)

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Alien: Covenant didn’t fully sate my hunger for monsters eating humans, so the time has come to review yet another DVD that features carnivorous creatures. Two months after checking out God Eater Volume One I finally got round to watching the second and final chapter of this Ufotable series. Excuse the long gap between reviews, but I was trying to recreate the experience of having to wait ages for the next episode. It’s something that viewers had to put up with, back when the series originally aired, due to the anime’s well-publicized production delays. Evidently the show’s CGI visuals are not something that can be rushed.

OVERVIEW

Volume two commences with Lenka Utsugi and Alisa “under boob” Omela recovering from a mission that almost saw the pair meet their demise. The trauma of said operation has left Alisa whimpering naked in bed and Lenka isn’t doing much better. A medical examination has revealed that the strains of wielding a God Arc have shortened Lenka’s lifespan significantly. Doctors estimate that the angsty protagonist has just three years left to live before he croaks. Ah, that old chestnut of the hero having to choose whether he should continue using a power that is slowly killing him.

The solution to these problems is for Lenka to transfer from the frontlines to a command role. Alisa meanwhile conquers her demons by undergoing a session of brainwashing. The procedure is a success and also makes her more polite too… bonus! Not everyone on Lenka’s team can claim to be as courteous as the new Alisa though. Soma Schicksal, who appears on the DVD box art, remains an obnoxious edge lord. I’ll give him a pass though, as episode nine reveals that he led a rough childhood. Lenka also gets an episode dedicated to his backstory, which chronicles why he is so driven to slay Aragami. Get your hankies out for said episode, titled Scattered Petals, because it is an emotional tale.

God Eater concludes with Lenka’s leaders in the Fenrir organization executing Operation Meteorite. By activating strategically placed beacons, the group hopes to lure out waves of Aragami for an ambush. The plan hits a snag however when a traitor sabotages the devices, resulting in a horde of monsters making a beeline for a nearby refugee camp. Lenka and chums need to halt the Aragami stampede, but it won’t be easy as the deadly Dyaus Pita is part of the pack. As we saw in the last volume, Pita is much stronger than his brethren, is blessed with guile and worst of all possesses a manly beard!

VERDICT

My rating for God Eater (Volume Two) is three and a half stars. The show doesn’t quite live up to its potential, but when compared to other video game adaptations it is pretty decent. Apart from the odd janky scene, Ufotable have done a good job with the visuals and animation. The gravity defying action sequences in particular are impressive. Story wise however, the studio would have benefitted from spreading the narrative out across more episodes. In this second collection alone they cram in conspiracies, character development, flashbacks, oversized cleavage and romance within half a dozen episodes.

Pacing complaints aside, I enjoyed God Eater enough that I wouldn’t be averse to watching a second season. The manner in which the finale wraps up does leave the door open for more episodes. Whether the folks at Ufotable would be willing to revisit a franchise that caused them so many deadline headaches remains to be seen though. I suspect I’ll have to dig out God Eater Burst, from my PlayStation 4 backlog, to see how the story pans out. No pressure then. My library of console games that need completing only exceeds three hundred after all! Too much entertainment and too little time – got to love those first world problems.

Review of Death Parade

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Yesterday was meant to be a vacation day. Unfortunately for me the Friday was spent in bed wrestling with a bout of man-flu. These occasions, were illness strikes, serve as a stark reminder that I am not impervious to ailments. I am very much mortal and like everyone else will someday meet my demise. As I lay there, in a feverish stupor, I began to ponder what happens to us when the Grim Reaper comes a knocking. Some denominations believe that we get whisked away to heaven, whilst atheists (such as myself) believe that we simply cease to be. Death Parade’s take on the after life is that spirits of the departed are transported to a pub, where a quick game determines if said souls are to be reincarnated or exiled away to an empty void.

OVERVIEW

Death Parade’s setting is the Quindecim Bar. Most of the anime’s dozen episodes start with a pair of recently deceased entering the saloon. Unaware of their plight, as all knowledge of their passing has been expunged from memory, the two visitors are coerced into competing in a random game. A digital roulette wheel selects the contest from a range of pastimes that include cards, air hockey, Street Fighter II and Twister (the latter which I hear is great fun to play with members of the opposite sex.) Each game comes complete with a supernatural surprise. The inaugural episode for example features a darts duel between newlyweds, were throwing a projectile at the board causes their significant other to feel immense pain.

Unbeknownst to the competitors, the outcome of their match doesn’t matter one iota. How they behave during the session determines whether they will be reborn as someone else or hurled into purgatory. The arbiter who decides each person’s fate is the pub’s courteous bartender Decim. He’s a pasty skinned chap who collects mannequins as a hobby. Decim is exceptional at pouring drinks, but his lack of emotion can be a hindrance when it comes to judging the nature of his guests. It’s for this reason that in Death Parade’s first instalment he is afforded a perceptive assistant named Chiyuki. Throughout the series other characters make an appearance, including Decim’s pintsized superior Nona and Ginti – a crimson haired mixologist who has nothing but contempt for humans.

VERDICT

My rating for Death Parade is five stars. Thanks to the wide spectrum of personalities that go through Quindecim’s doors the series is able to evoke a gamut of emotions. Some episodes made me laugh, others brought me to tears and on a few occasions I raged over Decim’s verdicts. Perhaps that illustrates what a fine line exists between saints and sinners? Whether you brand someone good or evil often comes down to your own personal values/beliefs rather than the person’s actions. As someone who detests filler I admired how Death Parade made every episode count during it’s modest twelve part run. The first half of the series follows an episodic format, but as the narrative approaches its climax things shift to the mystery that ties Decim and Chiyuki together.

In terms of audio and visuals Death Parade deserves a thumbs up. The confined bar setting didn’t prevent Madhouse’s animators from going all out during certain scenes. Until now, I never knew that a game of air hockey could look so epic! The voice acting, which is a vital component of any good psychological drama, was top notch too. I also dug the show’s OP and ED. Flyers (the tune that kicks off each episode) will make you want to boogie, whilst Last Theatre closes things out with a ditty that will appeal to rock ballad lovers. Now that I think about it, catching a cold on my day off wasn’t so bad. Staying indoors resulted in me watching an excellent anime. I doubt going out to my local tavern would have been more enjoyable than spending time at the animated Quindecim Bar.

Review of Lostorage Incited Wixoss

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Lostorage Incited Wixoss is the third season of an anime franchise that seemingly chooses its titles by plucking random words out of the dictionary (a naming convention popularized by Kingdom Hearts’ sequels.) Lo-storage? Better buy a bigger hard drive mate. Anyways… for those of you not acquainted with the prior Wixoss cartoons, I would best describe the show as Magic the Gathering meets Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Brace yourself for a lot of “you activated my trap card” and a lot of tragedy, when players realize why one should always be careful of what you wish for.

OVERVIEW

Homura Suzuko and Morikawa Chinatsu were inseparable childhood pals until the day that Suzu’s family moved away to another town. Years later the pair reunite, under less than ideal circumstances. Suzuko, Chinatsu and countless others have been chosen by a cosmic force to compete in a Wixoss battle royale. Participants are tasked with amassing five coins within a ninety-day deadline, or else they will be stripped off their memories. Coinage is earned/lost by winning/losing duels respectively. Anyone who exhausts their supply of mystical currency is spirited away as punishment. Scary stuff! This series is doing a lousy job of promoting the real life card game. Based on this plot, I am now too terrified to ever play a game of Wixoss.

All that said – the series is more concerned with telling a good tale rather than being a glorified commercial for the titular TCG. Just like the first season of Yu-Gi-Oh (were it’s clear that the script writers never read the game’s rulebook) watching Lostorage’s dozen episodes won’t teach you how to play Wixoss.

The narrative’s focus is on how the heroines react to the stresses they are put under. Chinatsu turns to the dark side, after buckling under the strain of family problems and the pressures of living up to Suzuko’s expectations. Suzu on the other hand grows in courage after a lifetime of depending on others. Under the tutelage of pro player Hanna Mikage, Suzuko becomes an accomplished Wixoss duellist. She receives lessons from Hanna in exchange for desserts. Judging from the current state of the Pound, it won’t be long before I too will have to barter by using tasty treats instead of worthless Sterling. Let’s hope I can resist the temptation of gobbling up my delicious sugary bank balance!

VERDICT

My rating for Lostorage Incited Wixoss is four stars. From what I recall, the show received a lukewarm reception back when it aired. I suppose that many viewers preferred the waifus characters from the last series more, although I personally enjoyed the anime quite a bit. Lostorage is rich in drama and unlike some other shows it ends on a satisfying, albeit bittersweet, note. Due to being a sequel series, Lostorage has the handicap of no longer being able to coast by on shock factor alone. The writers at J.C. Staff have however managed to keep things interesting with some unexpected revelations and twists, even if the overall story structure adheres to the blueprint laid down by past Wixoss seasons.

One thing that may annoy Yuri fans is that Wixoss is no longer a female exclusive domain. Lostorage’s cast includes a few guys, although I use the term guys loosely as they are all a bunch of pussies. Chinatsu’s love interest Shohei Shirai isn’t man enough to fight in battles whilst sis-con Shou Narumi doesn’t have the testicular fortitude to defeat female opponents. Lostorage’s antagonist Kou “bookmaker” Satomi is a bloke too, although he is wickedly flamboyant. Weak male characters aside, I had a grand time watching Lostorage Incited Wixoss and am looking forward to the 2018 fourth season. Said series is titled Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS – Missing Link… looks like the writers are continuing to use that random word generator for naming purposes.

Review of Girls Beyond the Wasteland

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Girls Beyond the Wasteland sounds like the title of a show starring an all-female team, who travel across a desert, in a dystopian future. Sadly the series is more down to Earth than its name implies. What we have here is a twelve episode visual novel adaptation, about a high school club that have banded together to create a… visual novel. So, the source material is a visual novel revolving around the production of visual novels? Blimey, how Meta. If you ask me, my idea about babes navigating sandy dunes sounds way cooler. VNs are all the rage these days though (Steam and the PSN store are full of them) so perhaps the premise will resonate with some of you, more than it did for me.

OVERVIEW

Teenage student Buntaro Hojo is a jack-of-all-trades who is still deliberating what career path he should follow. Hojo’s extensive resume of part time jobs includes ramen waiter and amateur playwright. Although he is talented at serving tasty noodle dishes, it is Hojo’s skill at penning scripts that catches the eye of classmate Sayuki Kuroda. The younger sister of an established VN creator, Sayuki hopes to follow in her brother’s footsteps by producing a visual novel of her own. She enlists Hojo’s services and then proceeds to scout the school halls for other helpers, who will hopefully aid with the realization of her creative venture.

Hojo’s childhood pals Atomu Kai and Yuka Kobayakawa are hired for the roles of assistant director and voice actress respectively. Meanwhile first year student Uguisu Yuki is recruited to draw the game’s artwork, after it is revealed that she is a famous online illustrator. The person responsible for programming is a bespectacled lady named Teruha Ando. I guess Ando is qualified to code because she is a hardcore geek who attends conventions and reads boy love manga. For the record, not every otaku is proficient with computers. People assume, just because I play video games, that I can somehow mend their broken laptops. In actuality, I can’t even suss out how to set the clock on my oven!

VERDICT

My rating for Girls Beyond the Wasteland is two and a half stars out of five. The series would best be described as average. Not terrible enough to drop, but not great either. It provides a cursory glance at what visual novel development involves and can be amusing at times. Large portions of the show are however dull. Whilst watching the DVDs I kept pondering what else I could be doing with my time. Rather than sitting through a dozen episodes of mediocrity I could be doing something more constructive like tackling my PS4 backlog or ironing that pile of recently washed jockstraps. My mind kept wondering because the content onscreen was so generic.

Seasoned anime viewers will instantly recognize the uninspired character stereotypes that make up the cast. Yuki for example is the token timid girl, Ando is the overzealous fujoshi and Sayuki is the impassive beauty. At least Atomu stood out by having a dark side. Whenever someone describes him as “nice” a black miasma envelops Atomu and he flies into a furious rage. The word nice triggers painful memories, because Atomu’s ex dumped him for being too nice. Like they say, nice guys finish last. That’s why there is an endless supply of single gentlemen out there, whilst beautiful women queue up to become Chris Brown’s latest punching bag.

Things weren’t much better in terms of plot either. Every so often the club faces a hurdle that may wreck the visual novel project, such as Hojo suffering from writer’s block or Ando quitting in a huff. The drama gets resolved quickly though, robbing the narrative of any tension. We don’t even get a bit of romance to spice things up. Yuka seemingly has a crush on Hojo, but the potential relationship goes nowhere. She gets jealous over Hojo and Kuroda spending time together, causing her to sulk briefly, but in no time at all she gets over it. Perhaps she realized the futility of competing in a love triangle? Childhood friends seldom ever come out on top in those things.

Review of School-Live!

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Warning: Be aware that this review contains spoilers. I don’t like giving too much away in my posts, but it’s impossible to discuss this series without spoilers given how episode one concludes with a “twist” that is bigger than Godzilla dancing to a Chubby Checker tune.

At first glance School-Live appears to be another “cute girls doing cute things” anime, albeit one about an unusual club. Rather than dance Yosakoi, perform music or hunt espers the members of the School Life Club spend all their time at Megurigaoka High. Even when classes have ended for the day Yuki, Kurumi, Yuri and Miki stay inside the academy building. They even sleep there! Are they a rare breed of student who can’t get enough of school? Nah. The group is barricaded in there because the surrounding area is infested with carnivorous zombies! Oh man, why can’t shambling corpses switch over to a more peaceful vegan diet? Grains are tastier than brains after all.

OVERVIEW

The first episode of School-Live is both terrible and brilliant. I wasn’t too impressed watching protagonist Yuki Takeya attend lessons and chase after a cute puppy for almost twenty minutes. Not too original and more Moe than a Simpsons bartender. The payoff was however worth the tedium. Just before the end credits roll it is revealed that viewers have been watching events through the perspective of a distressed girl, who is deluding herself to cope with the trauma of living in a zombie apocalypse. The classrooms she sits in are vacant, aside from the imaginary pupils in her head. Megurigaoka’s pristine looking halls are in reality blood stained corridors.

Now I was invested. A sweet story transforming into a complete nightmare is one sure fire way of grabbing my attention… reminds me of the time I lost my head over what occurred in Madoka Magica. The series never abandons the lighthearted elements found in the inaugural episode though. Instead the script bounces between comedy and horror, which should be tonally jarring but somehow works. Given how heart wrenching School-Live’s narrative can be I welcomed the respite afforded by Yuki’s hijinks. Her friends seem to be of the same opinion. Rather than finding Yuki’s behaviour odd, they appreciate how her carefree spirit wards off the doom and gloom.

Speaking of friends, let’s segue into talking about Yuki’s chums. First up is the buxom club president Yuri Wakasa. She gives the air of unflappable leader, although deep down is suffering from stress. If Yuri is the brains (watch out dear, zombies love brainssss) then Kurumi Ebisuzawa is the brawn. She is always seen gripping her trusty shovel, which Kurumi uses to crack undead skulls. The newest member of the School Life Club is a Stephen King reader named Miki Naoki, who the group rescued from a zombie-ridden mall. Last on the list is club advisor Megumi Sakura. Despite being a teacher no one gives her much respect. The girls refer to her as Megu-ne, instead of Miss Sakura, much to her chagrin. Even worse, everyone always ignores her suggestions.

VERDICT

My rating for School-Live is five stars. I’m probably overrating the series slightly, but bear in mind that I am a cowardly wuss who normally avoids scary movies. As a result zombie yarns still feel fresh to me, which may explain why Walking Dead was my favourite game of 2012. I think School-Live was at its strongest during its flashback episodes. Miki under siege at the mall, how Kurumi became proficient with a shovel and the origin of Yuki’s fantasies will make anyone root for their survival. The comical present day tales weren’t as good, but still enjoyable. After witnessing their tragic backstories, it was nice seeing the girls enjoy life for a change.

I seldom mention OPs/EDs in my reviews, but will make an exception for School-Live. The ending theme titled Harmonize Clover is a beautiful ditty, whilst the opening’s animation was cleverly put together. Episode one’s overly saccharin opener gets darker with each passing instalment; mirroring Yuki’s state of mind, as she begins to question the make believe world she has hidden herself in. Other highlights include Taromaru, the pup that Yuki pursued in episode one. Said doggie is my new favourite anime mascot (sorry Pen Pen.)

Viewers seeking an alternative to Highschool of the Dead may want to give School-Live a try. They both tick the girls versus zombies box, even if stylistically they are very different. HOTS is mostly action and eye candy whilst School-Live is psychological yet humorous. That’s not to say that School-Live is free from fan service though. Shower scenes, posterior close ups and swimsuits are all present. Even when characters are trapped in a decrepit building, anime finds a way to shoehorn a bikini episode. I wish I was kidding about that, but like a zombie I am dead serious.